If you weren’t convinced that Google is trying to take over the world – enter Google+. And I know we were all just foaming at the mouth for a new social network to keep tabs on our friends. While I personally and professionally believe Google may change the game a little with their new offering – is it going to be accessible to blind and visually impaired users?
Google’s track record with accessibility is a shaky one. We discussed our perception of Google’s concept of accessibility a few weeks ago, and many could safely assume this service is only an extension of that. I sure did, and while I’m not convinced Google really keeps our community at the forefront of their development agenda, Google+ seems decently accessible out of the box. I’d like to qualify that explanation a bit.
Sure – it’s not 100% accessible, but according to Google, the service isn’t really completely finished in the first place. I should preface the rest of my statements with the fact that I’m using Voiceover for Mac OSX with Safari as my browser. I got my invite earlier this evening and I’ve taken around 30 minutes to just browse the site a little. Here’s what I think so far:
- Browsing is Decent – It’s not perfect. The page seems to “refresh” as I navigate, which causes Voiceover to loose focus. There are also windows that pop in and out of focus, which can always be tricky for screen reader users. When adding a user to your Circles, there is a frame that appears at the bottom of the screen to select which Circle the user will be added to.
- Some Edit Fields Aren’t Usable – I’ve encountered this in a few situations this week. I implemented the Disqus comment system on my personal blog – and the field where users input text for the comment isn’t “reachable” to Voiceover. I had a developer tell me that it’s possibly do to a custom edit field type. I’m not a developer, so I really can’t say anything about that. However – the same notion is at play with Google+. The “Search for Friends” and “Leave a Comment” fields don’t give any spoken feedback as I type. It’s frustrating, especially if I make a typo – and I do.
- Chat Features Work Remarkably Well> – I’ve been a big fan of Google’s text, audio and video based chat systems for a while. I’m impressed at the clarity of the audio and video you get with them. The chat experience is no different in Google+ – with the exception that I think it’s better. Once you connect with a user in a chat, a new frame is launched within the page, which you can find by navigating all the way to the bottom of the screen. I will say this – there are quite a few unlabeled buttons in the chat window. Google could clean that up some.
- Images Are Clunky and Unlabeled – Facebook suffers from this issue – and it kills me. I don’t want to know the filename and path of a friend’s profile picture. Could you just report their name instead? Google+ shows the images of friends and such, but unfortunately they either say “Photo” or the user’s numeric ID. Not useful.
- Hangouts Work Very Well – Admittedly, I haven’t been able to get a friend to “hangout” with me on Google+, but on a fairly in-depth glance, this feature looks quite accessible. Hangouts is a multi-user video chat feature that is super easy to launch. There’s a built-in chat room, the ability to mute video and audio, and a very innovative feature where YouTube videos can be shown to all parties connected to the chat simultaneously. I think this feature is neat and could be useful to our community.
- Remember the Issue With Voiceover Focus? – It really becomes an issue when clicking the +1 button on an item – the cornerstone of Google’s social agenda. Using the button itself works fine, but Voiceover takes me back to the top of the “Stream” once I +1 something. It’s a bit irritating.
- Options Button Crashes Safari – The only serious bug I’ve found so far is one that crashes Safari when the “Options” button next to an update in your stream. I assume this gives you some options specific to the user or their content, but I’ve had no luck gaining access to it without the browser restarting.
This is a quick and dirty run through of some of the features found on Google+ and how they pertain to accessibility. If you are one of the lucky few to get an invite, I’d love to hear your take on the platform. While I certainly don’t expect the Google+ service to cripple any of the other major players in social media, I certainly think their approach with Circles is one that many users will rejoice over. I don’t expect a mass exodus from Facebook, but I do believe the blindness community needs to continue holding Google’s feet to the fire on making it’s web offerings, including Google+, accessible to all major screen readers, which includes Voiceover.
Have you given Google+ a test drive? What was your initial take away? Anything that Google got right on this first attempt? Where should they focus improvements? Share your thoughts and impressions in the comment section.